June 20, 2018

The poet, the poem and the proposal

Daniel L. Cady (Observer courtesy photo)

Daniel L. Cady (Observer courtesy photo)

By Richard H. Allen 

Special to the Observer

October 10, 2013

One part of the 1913 celebration of Williston’s 1763 charter was the reading of a poem composed by Daniel Cady that highlighted some of the town’s history. The invitation to participate in the festivities became a turning point in Cady’s life.

Daniel L. Cady is remembered as a humorous, hard drinking, talented Vermont-born lawyer and celebrated poet. His poems centered on the disappearing aspects of Vermont farm life, such as making soap, auctions, oyster suppers, mud season and kitchen poles. His work frequently appeared in Vermont newspapers and was eventually published in several volumes; the most successful was Rhymes of Vermont Rural Life.

Cady was born in West Windsor in 1861 and grew up on a farm. Part of his early years was spent working as a guard at the state prison in Windsor. Cady attended the University of Vermont and played center field for the baseball team. He graduated in 1886 and some of his poems appeared in the yearbook. He could count four Williston men as classmates: Clayton Wright; George Isham; Marvin Wright Clark; and Samuel Bishop. This perhaps explains how he was invited to the 1913 Williston ceremonies. Cady practiced law in New York City and wanted to retire early so he could spend more time writing and his plan was realized  by marrying a widow “said to be worth $1,500,000” according to the New York Times wedding announcement of Sept. 11, 1913. “A few weeks ago, when the 150th anniversary of the founding of the town of Williston, Vt., was celebrated, Mr. Cady delivered a poem he had written for the occasion. It was at that time when he met Mrs. Wells,” the article stated. The marriage proposal came shortly thereafter.

Mary Elizabeth Wells had been married to Henry W. Wells, part of the affluent and politically connected family that owned the Wells, Richardson Company, a Burlington-based manufacturer of Paine’s Celery Compound, butter coloring and “lactated food” for infants for when it is ”impossible to feed the child naturally.” Henry Wells died in 1911, leaving his fortune his childless wife. With little time wasted after their meeting in July, she and Cady were married in October of 1913. The Times article also noted that she was 63 and he was “ten years her junior.”

The newly married couple settled in Burlington with a residence on Main Street and their social life of entertaining and travel was often described in the Burlington Free Press. At last, Cady had the means and time to devote to his sentimental poetry and giving entertaining speeches in front of a variety of organizations. Eventually, he was awarded honorary degrees from UVM and Norwich University, so in his later years he referred to himself as “Dr. Daniel Cady.”

The untitled poem on Williston’s history is long and sometimes difficult to fathom, but here are several stanzas to give you a flavor of Cady’s work.

“…Then was the town erected, and the clerk

Put on his iron specs and went to work;

Then did the fragrant Onion sweeter flow,

As tanneries and taverns ‘gan to grow;

The saw mill forces joined with oats and corn,

And horses, sheep, ox-teams and boards were born;

‘Twas then a flock of turkeys from the West

Flew o’er North Williston and stopped to rest…

The last two lines are a reference to the Smith Wright and Sons cold storage plant in North Williston that froze poultry, butter and eggs for shipment by rail to Boston and New York City. The poultry came from many sources, but especially Iowa and Minnesota.

…Amongst these early names we love to hear,

The name of Chittenden most charms the ear;

Here Thomas, friend of freemen, came to live

His life and all his sturdy talents give

To fair Vermont

Here did his sons abide

High-mettled militants of the countryside;

For proof go view the marks yon Wright house bears

Where they went horseback up the parlor stairs;

This is the often repeated story of why there are hoof prints on the stairs leading to the upstairs ball room of the Smith Wright house, now the home of Jim and Lucy McCullough at the Catamount Family Center.

Upon the honor roll of useful men

Few names stand out like Thomas Chittenden;

For eighteen years he held the helm of State,

And Williston grew proud as he grew great;

Father and Friend and Lover of Vermont,

How well he met an infant people’s want!…

…Early settlers cast a look,

And pushed their frontier on to Muddy brook,

Whereby the Willistonian rangers won

Ten good square miles from sleepy Burlington;

In turn they gave away a fertile flap,

That Richmond might appear upon the map;”

Cady was referring to the formation of Richmond on Oct. 27, 1794 from parts of Jericho, Huntington, Bolton and Williston. In return, the state legislature moved the Burlington boundary so the land east of Muddy Brook became part of Williston. South Burlington was not formed until 1864. Do you dare ask your friends in Richmond how they like living in “a fertile flap?”

The inclusion of an historical poem in the 1913 celebration was a variation on the practice of having VIPs, usually politicians, deliver long-winded speeches at such commemorations. Cady’s appearance suggests some of the Williston organizers wanted to emphasize the humorous and lighthearted side of the town’s history. For the record, Governor Fletcher also spoke.

Here is Cady’s wish for future celebrations of the town’s charter. He hoped that Williston would provide

“…Men who can roll a field or roll a psalm,

And tell an interest table from a farm.

Who when, far hence, this day shall come again,

As we have kept it now, will keep it then.”

Richard Allen is a local historian and author. He has written a series of articles for Williston’s 250th anniversary. His research is supported by the Williston Historical Society.


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